Two weeks ago, I gave an update on my novel, after which I shifted to doing some work on my short story, The Storm. I have just hit the next milestone in that project and will share where I’m, at now.
When I last left The Storm I was in the middle of revising the second act, and now I have completed that revision. It’s been a while since I posted any work in this area, so I’ll include the entire revised second act, including the material that was shared previously.
This is quite a large segment, over seven thousand words. Feel free to skip to the new material at the bottom or skim over the whole as you see fit.
Revised Middle Act)
The old sailor held firmly to the wheel and made a straight line for the floundering vessel. Coming near enough to Harry’s boat to throw a line across was going to be extremely perilous, so Oscar needed to move as quickly and efficiently as possible.
He glanced over his shoulder and punched a button on his panel, dropping the net from the trawler’s central beam. Then Oscar pulled a lever, and the rope ran out until fifty feet of it lay unfurled on the deck.
Oscar’s eyes snapped back to the fore just as his trawler came into position alongside of Harry’s. He gave the engines one last push, then cut the throttle and locked the wheel in place. He dashed to the rope laying on the deck, coiled it around his hand, and bounded with it to the port side. Then a mighty fling as he sent the rope to Harry, who pulled the coil to his chest and sprinted with it to his bow cleat.
Oscar hurried back to the wheelhouse and spun the helm to account for drift, then raised the throttle back up, moving his vessel a little ahead of Harry’s boat, but not so far as to pull the line out before Harry had it secured.
It was very difficult to hold the boat steady in the rolling waves, but the true challenge would only begin after Harry had his end of the rope secured. Towing another boat was dangerous, even in fair weather. They would have to maintain constant tension, or else the slacking and tightening of the rope might snap it. They would have to keep the line straight between them, or else they might roll each other sideways into the drink. They would have to gauge their speeds so that Harry’s boat didn’t come careening into the back of Oscar’s. They would have to account for the constantly uneven momentum as Oscar’s boat rode up the crest of one wave while Harry’s was down in the valley of another and vice versa.
In short, there were many things that could go wrong–that probably would go wrong–and any of them could easily end in disaster. For any other fisherman in their hamlet, Oscar would have faced those dangers gladly. But for Harry?… Well, evidently he would still face them, but there was nothing glad about it.
Of all the men that could have been caught out here, why did it have to be the one Oscar could never forgive?
“Alright, I’m ready to go,” Harry’s voice came from the radio.
“I’ll pull forward until the line gets tight,” Oscar immediately returned to the matter at hand. “Then you throw your engine on and give whatever you’ve got to keep us aligned. I’ll do the pulling and warn you for every turn.”
“Of course Oscar. And…thank you, I really didn’t think anyone was going to come for me.”
“Don’t mention it.” It wasn’t a polite deference it was an order. Oscar eased the throttle forward so the slack in the line would be pulled out as gently as possible. A slight jolt shuddered from stem to stern and the boom that the rope ran from groaned ominously…but there wasn’t a sound of anything breaking. Oscar looked over his shoulder and saw Harry’s boat moving in tandem with his own. They were in sync.
“Which way?” Harry’s voice came over the radio.
“Straight into the waves,” Oscar replied. “We’re going to try pushing through the eddies.”
“I don’t know, Oscar. I tried that and things get pretty frantic where the eddies cross against the tide. I couldn’t get past it no matter what I did.”
“Well, I haven’t tried it.”
Harry didn’t dispute the manner any further and Oscar settled the prow of his vessel against the oncoming waves. They had grown from a rolling carpet to tumultuous mountains. Oscar accelerated further to make up for the pull of Harry’s vessel behind him.
“Faster, Harry,” he instructed. “We’ve got to get up enough speed to clear this.”
But instead Harry’s boat suddenly surged forward and yanked backward multiple times in quick succession.
“Can’t you keep it steady?” Oscar snapped into the radio.
“Well–no, I can’t! The engine keeps cutting out and coming back when I raise the acceleration too far.”
“Is it steadier at lower levels?”
“Yes, if the throttle is less than a quarter of the way up.”
“Alright. You keep it there. I’ll tug.”
Oscar gritted his teeth as he brought his own throttle to just above Harry’s level. The line became steady between them, and Oscar very gradually ramped his acceleration up again, slowly pulling Harry’s trawler faster than it could go on its own. As a result, they settled at a speed that was less than half of what Oscar’s boat could have gone on its own, and against the push of the wave they barely maintained enough momentum to get over its crest.
But get over it Oscar did, and then he found himself barreling downward with the combined force of his churning engines and gravity.
“Bring it back, bring it back,” he muttered, intermittently pulsing the engines in reverse to keep from rushing too far ahead and putting undue strain on the line.
A moment Harry’s boat broke through the crest and the line went slack again as he came tumbling down as well.
“Easy, easy,” Oscar called into the mic. “Slow down, but gradual. Settle back into tension on the line as gently as possible.”
Harry pulsed his engines in reverse, trying to come to a stop before hitting the back of Oscar’s boat.
“Slower…slower…” Oscar’s eyes flitted from front to back, trying to navigate the downward ramp of the wave while also making sure that Harry didn’t do something stupid. “SLOWER, HARRY!”
Harry went full reverse and came to a sudden stop, the line snapped taut, and Oscar’s whole vessel jolt painfully.
“HARRY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m just trying to get the feel for this.”
“We’re well past that, Harry!”
“I’m sorry, Oscar.”
“Just get back up to throttle!”
Once again, the two vessels returned to their highest tethered speed and began the arduous climb up the next wave. Once again, they barely managed to clear its top, and down the back of the wave they came. Once again, Oscar tried to keep a steady speed for Harry to target, and Harry furiously pulsed his engines to try and match that speed, and still the boats shuddered when they hit tension, though not as terribly as before.
“Try to get down to speed as quickly as you can,” Oscar instructed. “The more of the wave we can roll down afterward and build up speed, the easier time we’ll have riding up the next one…. But don’t get down on speed so fast that the rope snaps, of course. Let’s try to work it together.”
And so, after they crested the next wave, Oscar started adjusting his own throttle to help ease things back into place. He slowed down a little as he came over wave but tried to anticipate what Harry’s speed would be and tried to match it. And he sped up and slowed down his own boat, even while shouting directions to Harry, so that each of them pulled out the slack in the rope more gradually.
But still it wasn’t perfect, and never was it easy. Every time they chugged up the rise of a wave there was still the fear that they wouldn’t clear it, and every time they rolled down the back of a wave there was still the fear that they would break the rope between them. Each ascent and descent were their own miniature terror. Each point of stress ended by leading directly into the next, and all of them were another toll on Oscar’s nerves.
And as they went Oscar also noted the swirling eddies looming nearer and nearer on the starboard side. They had been agitated by the wind from their usual steady roll into a churning staccato, overlapping and merging so that it became impossible to tell where one curl of the waves ended and the next began.
“Hit it fast enough, and hope to skate across the top,” he told himself. Then he picked up the mic and called instructions to Harry. “We’re going to make a pull into the eddies after this next wave. As soon as we crest the top, don’t slow down. We’ll get up all the speed we can, down into the trough, and then roll sideways with it into the eddies. Try to plow through before it has a chance to spin us round.”
The next wave approached, obscuring the eddies from Oscar’s view. The nose of his boat turned upward, pointing his view towards the dark sky overhead where the whipped tendrils of dark vapor overhead seemed like an ocean in their own right.
“Let’s start pulling to the right, even as we climb,” Oscar instructed over the radio. “Not too far. Ten degrees.”
The whole vessel creaked ominously as its rudder turned against the rushing tide. It didn’t really turn in response, more so the whole thing just started pulling sideways through the water, kicking up a violent spray against the right side of the wheelhouse. Then the spray shattered into a million pieces as the boat breached the top of the wave and Oscar peered down the long ramp to the eddies before him.
“Make it twenty degrees to starboard,” he shouted, “and give it everything you got!”
Harry’s boat broke through the wave-top, too, and together the two skated down the back of the wave. Faster and faster they went. Nearer and nearer the swirling eddies loomed. As the two sailors descended Oscar’s eyes roved over the ever-changing water, mapping out where it pushed out and where it pulled in, and where they would want to enter the fray.
“Hold back, I think–” he faltered.
“No. No! Forward. And a little less to starboard. Let’s get in right behind that big swirler dead ahead. It’ll pull us the way we want to go, but we’ve got to be quick to make it!”
“I think I’ve about maxed out without choking the engine!”
“Slowly raise it. If it starts to stall, slow down until its steady then raise it again.”
A ripple in the water bucked Oscar’s boat, giving him a split-second of air before he slapped back onto the water.
“I’m at twenty-five percent throttle…” Harry’s timid voice broke over the radio. “Twenty-seven…”
The two boats slid into the trough and leveled out. The eddies were spinning nearer and nearer, but they still had a bit to go before they reached them.
“Faster!” Oscar commanded.
“I think it’ll cut out.”
“We’ll just have to chance it. Higher!”
The water began pulling upwards, the boats started to tilt sideways against it.
“Thirty-fi– oh no!”
Harry’s engine cut out and his boat immediately hauled back on the line, slowing both boats to a crawl. Oscar flitted his eyes left and right. They could try turning up into the wave, but there was no way they would clear the top of it at this angle, or else they could plunge down, right into the heart of the mini whirlpool.
Oscar spun the wheel to the right.
“Hold on!” he shouted. “We’re going in!”
The nose of the boat sailed over the lip of the wave, then it cascaded downward into the eddies. There came a thundering crash as the bottom of the boat hit the swirling currents and, in a moment, his entire deck was swamped with dark and freezing water.
“We’re going round!” he shouted, forgetting that he wasn’t holding the mic any longer.
The Last Horizon boat bobbed back up to the surface and Oscar furiously grappled with its wheel, spinning it left and right, trying to straighten the nose out. He peered into the froth and tried to pick out where Harry had got to.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” he exclaimed as he spotted the Broken Wing barreling down a collision course for him. He picked up the mic and desperately shouted.
“Harry, turn to starboard! Turn!”
Harry’s boat swiveled and careened sideways. It rushed past Oscar on the port side, so near that Oscar’s vessel shuddered down into the other’s wake. But Oscar didn’t have time to give a sigh of relief. The rope between the boats was fast spinning out as Harry’s vessel continued its reckless charge. Oscar spun his wheel hard to starboard, trying to align the rear of his boat with Harry’s, so that he wouldn’t be pulled in a wild circle when the rope hit tension.
The rope snapped tight and there followed a sound like a gunshot as one of the great bolts at the base of Oscar’s boom shot off into the sea! Oscar’s boat was hauled backwards, and Harry’s was pulled starboard from the nose.
“Harry, level it out and pull us out of this whirlpool!”
For a moment all was chaos. Howling wind, icy spray, and ominous creaking. Oscar couldn’t make sense of anything that was going on. But then, slowly, things settled down enough for him to realize that Harry had done it. They two boats were pulling out of the small whirlpool.
Not that that made things much better. All around the water seemed to be going three different directions at once. The swirling around the edge of the cape intermingled with the union of two different tides. Forces collided in foamy spray, leaving troughs that sucked anything nearby deep below the surface. Whirlpools opened and closed every minute. Miniature streams ran counter to each other in larger rivers.
This was why Oscar had sought to plow through with the full speed of their engines behind them. Their best chance had been to just muscle their way through before any of the counterforces had a chance to slow them down. Now, though, getting across would mean starting from a standstill, with no momentum whatsoever. It was impossible.
“It’s no use!” Oscar cried after a minute of trying to get both boats in proper alignment and pushing forward together. “Not with your engine running so low anyway.”
“I know, Oscar. I’m sorry!”
Oscar tapped his hand furiously on the helm, calling on every ounce of his experience to come with another plan.
“We’ve got to head back,” he decided. “Head back into the waves. Move against the tide like we were before. We’ll figure out what next after we make it that far.”
“Can we even get back out of here, though?”
“It’s either out or down,” Oscar steeled his brow, and without further discussion turned his vessel back the way they had come. His eyes roved over the competing forces before him. With expert instincts and lightning-quick reflexes he shifted from one current to another and back again.
He followed one stream down to where it crossed the whirlpool. Swirled around to the other side and exited into the wake of two crashing tides. Turned the boat sideways and let it slip halfway down the slope, then gunned the engines just before hitting the breakers and rolled off to the side. It was a mortally dangerous dance, yet Oscar found his way through, even while towing along a flat-footed partner.
“I see the way out,” Oscar announced. “Just need to break through the fringe.”
So saying he accelerated forward, timing his approach to coincide with a lull between the rising and falling of the waves. Just before they broke out of the eddies there remained a cusp of white water.
“Hold steady!” he commanded as the foam broke across the prow. His windshield became an obscurity of a million droplets, and he had to steer by feelings and instinct alone. Then, all at once, they broke through, back in the trough between two mountainous waves.
“To starboard! To starboard!” he called. Very quickly now they needed to get turned towards the oncoming wave and build up momentum to clear its crest. Oscar cranked his wheel to the right, but Harry’s boat was sluggish with all the water down its hold. Oscar felt his boat lose considerable speed in trying to tug Harry’s around, and then they were already climbing the next wave.
“Full throttle, Harry, full throttle!” Oscar cried out, pushing his own acceleration to the maximum.
Oscar’s boat spun its propellers valiantly, but it grew slower and slower as it crawled up the slope of the wave, and the slower it went the more the prow tried to follow the path of least resistance, falling off to either one side or the other. Oscar spun the wheel back-and-forth and applied the throttle in controlled bursts, trying to counter the boat’s shying and keep it pointed forward. But he wasn’t even advancing so much as just holding still in place. The wave’s crown broke over the front of the boat, but rather than bursting through Oscar felt himself starting to roll backward with the water!
Then came a sudden blow from behind and the sound of crunching! Oscar’s boat had slowed down faster than Harry could turn out of the way, and Harry had rear-ended him!
“Harry!” Oscar shouted angrily, but then he felt the push. Harry’s engines had come back to life, and he still had some inertia, even against the slope of the wave! It gave Oscar the push he needed, and he was able to steer his way through the top of the wave! Together the two boats rushed down the backside of the wave and returned to their proper speed.
“Alright Harry, that was lucky,” Oscar pulled the mic back to his mouth and wiped the nervous sweat from his brow. “But you keep your distance from now on, you hear?”
There didn’t seem to be any response, but then Oscar realized he still had the button on the radio locked down. He released it just in time to hear the last of Harry’s reply.
“–and I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want your ‘sorry,’ Harry,” he shot back. “Just competence.”
Oscar knew he wasn’t being fair, and he let go of the radio and tried to soothe his frazzled nerves. They had successfully made it back into the waves, and that was well and good, but he needed a cool head if he was going to figure out what their next step should be.
As far as he could see it, there were two options. The first was that they could push against the waves and hope to make enough headway to get past the eddies. That would allow them to make a relatively peaceful turn around the cape, and then head back towards shore. The other option would be to move just a little way up the waves, then turn around and use the push of the tide to build up extra speed, hopefully enough to try and force their way through the eddies.
The first option would require much more fuel and time in the heart of the storm, neither of which Oscar was sure they could spare. But, of course, the second option required facing the raging froth again, and Oscar did not think he dared to do that.
“We’re going to keep riding up the waves, Harry,” Oscar said into the mic. “We’ll try and get far enough to cross the cape beyond the eddies.”
“Okay. Any special instructions for that?”
“No,” Oscar released the mic and muttered to himself, “let’s just have a moment of quiet for now.”
Rapid twitches crept up and down his arms, making the wheel jitter back-and-forth. Fortunately, the boat was moving so sluggishly with all the water collecting down in the hold that Harry wouldn’t see any of the nervous shudders.
“What am I doing here?” Oscar asked himself. “I can’t do this! I don’t have it in me anymore.”
“I don’t think you have a choice anymore,” another side of him replied.
If at all possible, his weathered face grew even more wrinkly, and his eyes shone with unshed tears.
“I should have quit after James died.”
“No,” his other side returned. “You should have quit before you lost your son.”
Oscar bowed his face before the storm and mingled the saltwater from his eyes with the tears of the sea.
“I’m sorry, James,” he mourned. “I should have known I needed to quit the sea before it was too late. I’m sorry I ever entrusted you to him.”
But Oscar hadn’t left the sea then, nor had he left it today. Here he was, still pressing deeper into the heart of it all. And as terrible as the storm had seemed when he first pierced its ranks, now he was nearly upon its nexus, and its true strength was only just becoming manifest.
Lightning bristled so constantly and on every side that the air tingled continually with a charge, giving the men a painful shock any time they shifted their touch. The wind rose from forbidding moan to deafening roar and chilled the men as if they didn’t have on their heavy coats. All the waves heaved upward like the entire sea was trying to vomit itself into the air. The waves became so large that the trawlers could not scale them entirely, and the boats began punching through the top of them, becoming entirely submerged for a moment before bursting through at the other side.
“Oscar!” Harry’s voice sounded faint and far away, even though he was screaming into the radio. “How much longer can we keep doing this?!”
Oscar did not respond, only winced as he saw the wall of water rush to fill his entire field of view, then burst across his prow and against his windshield. He braced himself in case the glass broke, but once again the window held firm, though fresh gallons heaped themselves through every crack in the floor to the hold below. After what seemed like an eternity the boat burst through the wall of water, swung downward, and streaked along the back of the wave.
It wasn’t just the rising power of the storm that was making things difficult either. They were now quite far from shore, and they had just reached the point where the seafloor suddenly dropped down, doubling the volume of water below them. Now the waves stretched out, remaining just as high as ever, but extending out for twice the distance. It gave the sailors more time in the trough to build up their speed, but also a much more drawn-out crawl up the longer rises.
And what was more, this stretched out, highly exposed landscape gave the wind unbroken access to the boats. It was no longer diluted by numerous bumps and channels in the seascape, and now it buffeted them with its full power. Like a charging herd of bulls in slammed into the broadside of their boats and pushed them before its horns. The tops of their boats tilted sideways and stayed in that precariously askew position.
“Turn your rudder!” Oscar instructed. “Turn it to port.” He cranked his own wheel and flexed the underside of his boat to counter the pushing of the wind. Between the two askew forces he found something of a balance, though one that unpredictably trembled in and out of equilibrium. A woeful groan rumbled up from the depths of his vessel.
“Hold on, girl, hold on,” Oscar encouraged. His boat was a good and reliable craft, but also well past her prime. He knew it wasn’t wise to put her through strain like this, but he also had no choice.
“We’re still sliding to starboard,” Harry pointed out. “Sliding towards the eddies.”
“Just keep screwing the boat against it.”
Oscar’s wheel pushed back against his hands, but he forced one spoke down and then another, contorting it against its will. Still, he felt his boat trying to roll off to starboard.
“We must be clear of the eddies now, Oscar,” Harry reasoned. We can cut in front of the cape now!”
“The eddies don’t disperse until the drop-off, and the drop-off follows the shape of the coastline farther out.”
“We’ve got to turn back then.”
“We’ve got to get over this wave is what we’ve got to do!” Oscar surveyed the remaining slope they still had yet to clear. “Just keep turning the wheel and keep going straight.”
Oscar put his shoulder into it and pushed the wheel still further to port. And then, all at once, a loud whine burst from the back of the boat and the wheel suddenly became loose in his hands.
“No!” Oscar cried, relaxing his hold on the wheel for fear of causing more damage. The wind pushed his boat at its pleasure, turning it nearly all the way to starboard, making him carve up the wave at an angle.
“Oscar, everything alright?” Harry called over the radio.
But Oscar didn’t reply. He needed both of his hands as he twitched the wheel back and forth, trying to feel out what had happened to his steering.
Well, it seemed that the rudder arm had not snapped, that was a relief! The boat still responded to Oscar’s commands, though sluggishly, and not all the way to its usual range. Probably the bolt connecting the hydraulic cylinder shaft to the rudder arm had bent.
“My–my steering’s limited,” Oscar called into the mic. “I put too much strain on it…. I–“
Oscar heard the thundering of water breaking across the prow and looked up to see the port side of his prow pierce into the water and a torrent of water come running across the deck! Oscar quickly twisted his hands around the wheel spokes and watched as the wall of water slammed against the windows of the wheelhouse. This time two of the panes of glass did shatter, and suddenly a deluge slammed into his body and swept his feet out from underneath! All he could do was hold fast to the wheel and hope to come through the other end! He was engulfed for an eternity, and he was just starting to give up hope of ever breaking through when his boat finally cleared the top of the wave and the flood abated, leaving Oscar’s boots slipping on the water-slicked floor.
“Are you alright there?” Harry’s voice was calling over the radio, though Oscar could barely hear it over the fuzzy ringing in his ears.
“Yeah, I’m here–” Oscar said dismissively. “I was–I just had–I’m alright now.”
But he wasn’t. As soon as he released the mic his whole body began shaking uncontrollably. His eyes welled up with tears, but he refused to let them run out. He had to suppress the emotional breakdown that was lurking in the periphery and keep pushing forward if he was going to survive. Get out of this storm first and then collapse in a heap on the floor!
“Turn more to port–” Oscar said numbly, and it sounded like a voice from another person. “Go up the next wave at an angle–to counter the wind–“
Though Oscar had raised a wall around his heart, the rush of emotions inside would not flow back where they came from. They continued to mount behind the mental barrier, turning it into a dam under pressure. His hands clenched until the bony knuckles seemed ready to pop out of his thin skin, his lips pursed together until they went white from loss of blood, his breath shot in and out of his nostrils in sharp, erratic bursts.
Trying to ready himself for another wave was its own trauma, another straw placed on his already buckling back. Every moment that he forced himself further into the storm darkened his very soul. Just in maintaining this line he had spent out the last of his nerve and was put into arrears.
“Harry, let’s–” Oscar’s voice stammered in the cold. “let’s g-get out of here.”
“What? You mean turn around?”
“Y-yes. I can’t keep up like this. Try and turn before this next wave hits. Go to starboard so that the wind helps us turn.”
Oscar rotated the wheel with a deep exhale. His steering was still sluggish, but he grabbed the control for the boom and swung it quickly to the starboard-side. The imbalance of weight helped him through the turn. Now the two sailors had their backs to the rolling tide and were pointed towards the coast. They surged forward with all the fury of the sea behind them! The very next wave lifted them from behind and nearly doubled their speed right off the bat!
Of course, that wave picked up Harry first, now accelerating him faster than Oscar, and that made the rope between them go slack.
“Easy…” Oscar muttered. “Easy…”
Then the crest of the wave leveled out beneath them. As the water became flat Oscar’s faster engines pulled out the slack in the rope. Then the back of the wave fell out from under Harry’s boat, and he fell downward with it, giving a nasty jolt to the line.
Once again, the two men found themselves in the difficult situation of trying to manage their speed in anticipation to the shifting of the waves. Only it was made doubly hard now by the fact that while Oscar was leading the way forward, Harry’s boat was experiencing the changes of velocity first. That put the greater burden on Harry, and he was not nearly as cut out for navigating the quick, reactive maneuvers as Oscar had been.
“Sorry! Sorry! …. Sorry!” Harry rattled off as the rope jerked back and forth between them, alternately tugging Oscar back to the left then back to the right.
“LET GO OF THE RADIO AND USE BOTH HANDS!” Oscar roared back. “I DON’T WANT YOUR SORRIES!”
How was Oscar supposed to coordinate their charge into the eddies with an incompetent fool leading from the rear?
But try as he might, Oscar couldn’t think of any other way around it. There was no way to get back home without turning their prows to the shore and their backs to the waves, and that meant being jerked around from behind by Harry’s trawler. And they couldn’t afford to slow things down and take it easier either. If they were going to test the eddies again, they absolutely had to get up every knot of speed they could.
Oscar heard the creaking of the rope as it was pulled upwards by the ascent of Harry’s vessel. The rope also went slack as gravity pulled Harry faster and faster. Oscar opened his throttle all the way and rushed before the nearing slope. Soon enough it caught him, and then he darted his head forward and back, easing out the slack of the rope and searching for an equilibrium with Harry.
Then came the creaking again as the rope leveled out at the top of the wave. Harry’s boat hung at the crest for a moment and then started to descend the back of the wave. Oscar lowered his throttle a little but tried to maintain a towing tension on the line, pulling Harry’s boat faster and faster through the froth.
But while the speed gauge showed the two boats going faster and faster, there was illusion of moving quite slowly, even backwards, against the faster rolling of the waves. Oscar tried to regard the instruments and count out the time in his head, so as to estimate how far they had gone, and how much longer they had before the cliffs of the Broken Horn would loom before them. But his brain was too frazzled to do this sort of figuring. Had they gone a half mile or five? He couldn’t say. And being unsure he began to assume the worst. The storm-mist pressing in on every side was so dark and so thick that it was indistinguishable from rock face. In Oscar’s mind’s eye rocky outcroppings sprung out of the murky black at every passing second.
“I think we’re about as fast as we’re going to get,” Harry’s voice broke over the radio. “Should we test the eddies again?”
Oscar silently pulled his eyes to port. A fork of lightning broke across the end of the rolling waves, illuminating the whirlpools and cross currents that lay waiting just beyond. Oscar swallowed hard and in his mind he turned his boat towards the fray, but his hands on the helm failed to follow suit.
“Oscar?” a hint of nervousness rang in Harry’s voice. “Don’t we need to turn soon if we want to clear it before the shoals?”
Oscar settled his mind towards the turn once more. He tried to gauge their speed and where they ought to enter the eddies at. But they really were moving at a blistering pace now, and the water forms swooped by so quickly that it seemed impossible to plan an entry properly.
“Oscar…?” the nervousness was more pronounced.
“Go!” Oscar cried, and at last his hands began to turn the helm. “Just go! Full speed ahead! Feel it out as we get there!”
The two boats tilted sideways, tipping from side to side as the waves continued to roll underneath. Faster than Oscar would have liked they closed the gap to the eddies, and as the thrashing forms filled his view he felt a dread that they would never emerge again.
“I–I’m not ready to face this.”
“You don’t have a choice,” his other side replied. The die had already been cast and what would be would be. Just before impact Oscar had a passing thought: had James felt this same grim inevitability before the end?
With a thunderous crash all the world became white, foamy spray. Their prows dug deep into the swirling water, and only by the sheer force of their momentum did they pound their way through that first crevice and into the ripples beyond.
“Hold steady, hold steady,” Oscar commanded as their vessels bucked up and down violently.
The seascape began pulling upward in a tall plume, shorter but steeper than the waves the two boats had just left behind.
“Full speed!” Oscar instructed, opening his throttle all the way. They would have to burn all their momentum just to get over this rise, but hopefully they could build it back coming down the other side.
“I don’t know about this, Oscar…” Harry moaned as the boats crawled slower and slower.
Oscar darted his eyes left and right. To the starboard the wave was collapsing, rippling downward under its own weight.
“Pull to starboard!” he cried. “Cut across at a slant and get over the collapsing ridge!”
Oscar’s rudder groaned ominously as he changed direction against the rushing tide. His hands jerked back and forth on the wheel, pulling towards starboard, straightening back out to relieve pressure, but then turning a little bit more again. Slowly he scraped his prow over in a slant. In doing so he had burned up what little momentum he had remaining, and his boat slowed to a standstill.
“Wait for it…”
Suspended briefly in the air, Oscar started to feel the pull backwards as his boat teetered on the edge of rolling backward down the wave. But then, just before it reached its tipping point, the collapsing edge of the wave rolled under him and the prow of the boat slammed forward, breaking through to the other side. He had made it.
“Oh no…” he exclaimed, for there, on the other side, Oscar found his vessel pointed directly towards the most massive whirlpool he had ever seen, its center a black void two hundred feet across!
“BACK TO PORT!” Oscar shouted. “BACK TO PORT!” It was their only chance to skim past the outer layers of the vortex. Having said so, Oscar rapidly spun his own wheel to the left, but his weakened rudder pivoted only a fraction as far as he needed to make the turn. The boat was already tilting towards starboard, one of its propellers lifting out of the water and into the air.
Oscar gritted his teeth and darted his eyes left and right, looking for some change in the seascape that he could make use of. Nothing met his gaze, but then all at once an idea flooded his mind. He thrust his wheel hard to starboard, opposite the way he needed to go. All the water down in the hold rushed over, making the boat careen ever further to its side. Oscar splayed his toes wide, feeling the movements of the vessel through his boots. He could make out the shift when the water in the hold collided with the hull and started to slosh back the other way. Now he spun the wheel back to port as quickly as possible, encouraging the water’s momentum, flowing it back across the hold until it slammed into the opposite side of the hull, the port side!
With the rudder and the rushing water combining forces Oscar found that extra push, just enough to finally pull his boat to the left. Now he thrust his engines to maximum and streaked across the outer edge of the whirlpool.
Now the two vessels were locked in the heart of the eddies. There would be no turning around and venturing back out again. They could only push the rest of the way through or else go down.
“Watch out for that furrow in that water!” Oscar shouted. “Level out and we’ll try to skim over the side!… Careful, that backwash will suck your right down!… Whoa, the gale really picks up here, try turning against it!”
On and on it went. Every league was another mystery, entirely unpredictable, requiring sharp wits and quick hands to be navigated. Only with each predicament Oscar felt his wits getting duller and duller, his frozen fingers more and more clumsy on the wheel. By force of will he had pushed farther than he had ever gone before, but once again, he was finding that he just didn’t have any nerve left to keep facing these terrors. The strength was gone, and he couldn’t make up any more.
“Let’s push through this crosscurrent with this next wave,” he said wearily. Before them was the juncture where two competing tides merged together in a high-spraying point. “Just be sure to hold at about a thirty-degree angle and push at a slant. We want to come out on the southern tide.”
“Alright…if you’re sure…”
“I’m not sure of anything anymore,” Oscar replied, but only to himself.
The wave came rolling up from behind the trawlers and tilted their boats so far to starboard that Oscar had to plant his foot against the side of the wheelhouse to keep from falling over. They seemed to hold this position for an eternity, and Oscar’s hands twitched on the helm, ready to spin at the first sign of the floor rolling out from under him. But just when he thought the boat was about to fall over the top of the wave rolled underneath them and the boats snapped wildly back to port.
“Easy! Easy! Easy!” Oscar shouted, spinning the wheel in a mad effort to straighten out.
But it wasn’t his boat that he needed to worry about! The sudden swing to port had proven too much for Harry. Oscar felt the sudden tug as Harry’s boat started to fall onto its side, reeling the line in as it went, tugging him down to his doom as well!
By pure instinct Oscar threw his wheel the rest of the way to starboard, swiveling his boat so that it was inverted to Harry’s. This also put him broadside to the rolling tide, and the water slammed against the wide face of his hull, flooded over the vessel, and threatened to swamp him! But all that force against the side of Oscar’s trawler also made it pull back sharply on the rope, like a kite on the end of a string, hauling Harry’s boat out of its roll and back to its upright position!
“Ohhhh!” Oscar moaned, then turned his face and retched on the floor of his beloved companion.
But Oscar did not have time to linger on being sick. His whole boat trembled from stem to stern, and he snapped his face back up to make sense of what was happening.
But try as he might, Oscar couldn’t make sense of it. The situation was entirely out of hand. With the two boats inverted to one another, and the next wave already rolling upon them, and the unpredictable buffeting of the wind, and the compromised rudder, and the gallons upon gallons of water rolling in their hulls, there were simply too many competing forces to keep up with!
“Come on!” Oscar snarled, desperately fighting to take control. But the more his hands fumbled over the controls, the more his boat over-corrected one way and then the other, only adding to the pandemonium! And then, just when Oscar thought he was about to have his boat under control, Harry’s was still bucking about chaotically, and the erratic tightening and slacking on the line that resulted jerked Oscar’s back into disarray.
The next wave hit, and all the world became water. Its torrent poured into the wheelhouse and slammed against Oscar, knocking his feet out from under him. He tried to get his bearings, tried to make sense of the wind and the sea, tried to figure out what way to maneuver his vessel…but the mayhem was insurmountable, and he was tossed about helplessly.
In all the pandemonium Oscar didn’t even register the small voice that was calling from the radio.
“Oscar…Oscar…Oscar are you there?”
“What is it, Harry?” he snarled, then immediately dropped the mic and continued wresting the wheel with both hands.
“Oscar, listen to me, we’re going to die if we keep up like this. But I’ll bet you could still work your way through and around the cape…if you weren’t towing me.”
“But I am towing you, Harry!”.
“Oscar, I knew it would be you who came for me. I just knew it. The sea knows I’ve done wrong by you…and it’s brought you here to make things right between us.”
“Harry, stop. I don’t want—”
“I lied to you Oscar.”
And there it is. I’ll be honest, I have absolutely no idea what I think of it all. I’ve been too deep in the trenches to know how well it flows as a whole. My next step will be to paste this portion over the current middle of my fourth draft, and then read over the entire thing and decide where to go next with it.
I won’t be doing that right away, though. I’m now going to take a few weeks and switch back to my novel, With the Beast, but once I reach the next checkpoint there, I’ll come back, evaluate, and draft the fifth iteration of The Storm.